Northern State’s Rap Against J.A.P.
Young Jeezy may prefer Cristal and Northern State may “enjoy a lemonade spritzer with Eliot Spitzer,” but outside of alcohol choices, stereotypes concerning hip-hop stars and J.A.P.’s are surprisingly similar. That theme is one that concerns Northern State, a trio of female rappers from Long Island (two of whom are Jewish). Instead of dwelling on the racial and sexual implications of that dichotomy though, Northern State play it for humor. “You have a sweat suit and you’re dripping in diamonds/Tell me are you a rapper or a mom from Long Island?” Hesta Prynn (aka Julie Potash) rhymes in a deliciously bratty cadence on the group’s new album “Can I Keep This Pen?”
In attempting to address the J.A.P. stereotype from within the confines of hip-hop, not only are they seeking legitimacy as artists who reference “watermelon daiquiris and sippin’ mojitos,” they are doing so in a genre where female performers are rare, and white female artists even rarer. Discussions of Northern State’s previous albums (“Can I Keep This Pen?” is their third) demonstrate the prejudices they have faced. They’re occasionally dismissed as a novelty act, and get compared unfavorably with the Beastie Boys. Rolling Stone’s short review of their second album called their music “hip-hop for the modern fabulous woman,” tossing in a “Sex in the City” reference to add insult to injury.
“Can I Keep This Pen?” though is too lyrically clever to dismiss Northern State as a novelty. On “Cold War” they rhyme “domesticity” with “Homeland Security” and “celebrity,” and then, over a punk beat, pointedly ask why “everybody’s talking about having babies” and “making money.” On “The Things I’ll Do” they tackle the chatter about their class background head on, insisting that they don’t live like “Nicky or Paris,” instead explaining: “I chill with Correne/I sell off my hair like my name was Fontine/I’ll charm your parents with my je ne sais quois/I’ll make your margarita sweeter at the Rodeo Bar.”
“Can I Keep This Pen?” indulges in hip-hop and J.A.P. stereotypes, and then skirts them both – demonstrating that neither are effective ways of thinking about the group. I imagine trying to pigeonhole Northern State would only earn their derisive laughter. Try to be charmed by their je ne sais quois instead.
To hear songs from “Can I Keep This Pen?” visit Northern State’s MySpace page. See below for videos for two earlier songs, “Girl for All Seasons” and “Better Already.”
Mordechai Shinefield has written about music for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and the New York Press.
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